By Tony Fitzpatrick
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Extra resources for Applied Ethics and Social Problems: Moral questions of birth, society and death
Consequentialists also demand that when something is condemned as wrong actual evidence of its negative consequences, such as harm to others, be produced. It is not enough to cite feelings or traditions or commandments; rigorous proof must be provided (Kymlicka, 2002, pp 11-12). Consequentialism allows us to catch out those whose moral disapproval barely rises above the ‘ugh’ factor. When a devout theist, for instance, condemns homosexuality as destructive of the ‘normal’ family consequentialism helps us to see through the self-serving bias of such opinions by demanding rational, verifiable, scientific evidence of actual effects.
However, this objection might be countered by consequentialists if our aim were to maximise average utility. Here, we might discount the 34 Consequence increasing disutilities of the wealthiest so that the maximum level of average utility can be achieved (Sidgwick, 1981, p 415). Yet consequentialists observe that it may be reasonable to consider maximum average utility as a rational response to the original position if such basic liberties are guaranteed and if the least advantaged are also protected by weighting utility in their favour (Wolff, 2002) – a solution that pushes towards some notion of equality of utility or perhaps equality of welfare.
When you act, you intervene in some significant way in a set of relevant circumstances; when you do not act, you do not intervene. But although one involves performance and the other non-performance, consequentialists insist that they are both of moral significance whenever deliberateness is present. Alternatively, I may fail to act through lack of deliberateness; for example, I hear cries for help that I honestly mistake for TV sounds and so ignore them. 7 The non-consequentialists among you may be getting uneasy by now.